The Olympic cycling time trial races are things of beautiful simplicity. They are one-man or one-woman races against the clock, in which the only strategy is speed. No peletons, no drafting, no worrying about smashing into the dozens of racers to your left or right, no agonizing about when to attack.
For Canada’s top two road racers, Clara Hughes and Ryder Hesjedal, the time trials Wednesday are anything but simple on the career front. If Hughes nabs a medal, she will become Canada’s mostly highly decorated Olympic athlete. Her medal count would rise to seven, one more than speed skater Cindy Klassen.
For Hesjedal, the stakes are not nearly as high, but high nonetheless, because he needs another big win to prove that he’s not a one-shot wonder. Hesjedal became in instant international sensation when he won the Giro d’Italia last May. But he hit the deck hard in the Tour de France last month, withdrawing early from the race, and had a poor showing in the 250-kilometre Olympic road race on Saturday.
Hughes also failed to win a medal in the women’s road race the next day, finishing middle of the pack, in spite of some aggressive, peleton-leading moves throughout much of the event. Her mediocre showing appeared not to bother her. That’s because she knew she has a better chance in the time trial, where a top-five finish is probable and a top-three possible. “I’m a 100 per cent ready for Wednesday,” she said after the road race.
Success is not guaranteed for Hughes. She is 39, which is ancient by Olympic standards, and the weather forecast calls for rain. Hughes, like most cyclists, hates racing in the rain for fear of falling. Hesjedal seems less optimistic than Hughes about a medal run in the time trial. He is more of a tour specialist than a one-day event man, and is a good climber – the time trial route is largely flat. And he notes that the Olympics are crowded with superb time trialists, notably the Britons.